Department for Education (DfE) data for last year shows a wide variation in school admission appeal success rates between local authorities across England.
In West Sussex, parents took 530 cases against their child’s school placement for the 2020/21 academic year to an appeal hearing, with 36 successful – a win rate of just seven per cent.
That was the lowest success rate since comparable records began in 2015-16 and far lower than the national average of 19 per cent.
In contrast, the appeal success rate was 48 per cent in County Durham, in the North East, and 47 per cent in Rotherham in South Yorkshire.
Matt Richards, founder of law firm schoolappeals.com, said the urban landscape of an area could be a factor in the variation in success rates.
He said cases in urbanised areas were more likely to feature parents simply wanting their child to be placed in a better school, but in rural areas it could be down to logistical reasons.
But he added: “It can also be down to the training and advice given to independent panel members which they stick to for their decisions.”
Schools follow the Government’s admission code when deciding which pupils to allocate places to each year.
When a parent is unhappy about an allocation, such as not achieving their first-place preference, an appeal can be submitted to the school’s admissions authority.
That can go to an independent appeal panel which then assesses whether the school was right to turn down the application.
In West Sussex, 89 per cent of pupil applicants were offered a first-choice school place last year.
Across England, the number of appeals heard fell sharply, from 48,100 in 2019/20 to 41,100 in 2020/21.
The DfE said measures were put in place to let parents to appeal during the pandemic.
These included allowing appeals hearings to be held by telephone or video conference, or be decided on the basis of written submissions.
The Local Government Association said it could not comment on specific appeal hearings. But a spokesperson said: “Every child should have a fair chance of getting into their parents’ preferred school and councils and schools work extremely hard to try and ensure that as many pupils as possible are allocated their first preference.”
A DfE spokesperson said with an increase in schools found to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, parents could be ‘confident their child will get the high-quality education they deserve’, and added: “School admissions appeal panels are independent bodies and make decisions on an individual basis, without admission authority involvement in the decision.
“The number of appeals heard in each area varies widely, so the number of successful appeals cannot be meaningfully compared as the volume can impact the success rate of appeals.”